Former Mid-Pacific star Kiner-Falefa hoping to rejoin big club after rehab
Isiah Kiner-Falefa is somewhere he’s never been as a big-leaguer: on the Injured List. But the Honolulu native is clearly making the best of his situation.
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FRISCO, Texas >> Isiah Kiner-Falefa is somewhere he’s never been as a big-leaguer: on the Injured List. But the Honolulu native is clearly making the best of his situation.
“I’m feeling good,” Kiner-Falefa said Tuesday, the day after his first rehab game with Double-A Frisco, where he went 2-for-4 at the plate. “I want to just get back to help the team. It’s been awhile. I didn’t think the injury was going to be as severe as it was, but I took the precautionary measures, did what I had to do to get back and I’m ready to go whenever the team needs me.”
Through 38 games with Texas, he was hitting .231 with one home run and 13 RBIs before landing on the 10-day injured list on June 7 with a sprained right middle finger ligament. On July 1, the Rangers sent him to Triple-A Nashville for his first rehab assignment and then one week later to Frisco, where he played in 2016 and 2017. In his absence, Texas signed veteran Tim Federowicz, who was with Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate, to back up Jeff Mathis. Federowicz has performed well as the Rangers’ No. 2 backstop, leading some to wonder where Kiner-Falefa, who is in his second big-league season, fits once he returns to full health.
“I have no idea (what the timetable is), whenever they need me I guess,” Kiner-Falefa said. “It’s just a regular protocol. I don’t really know much. This is my first time (on the injured list). All I know is I’m scheduled off (Tuesday), going to play eight (Wednesday) and then after that hopefully back up with the big boys.”
So, at least for now, he continues rehabbing in a place he knows well, Frisco, where he did great things in 2016 and ‘17 under current RoughRiders manager Joe Mikulik.
“It’s just comfortable. I had probably one of the best years of my career here with (hitting coach Josh Hart) and (Mikulik),” he said. “(Monday) was a good example of working with Hart and some of the guys who have seen me when I was doing really, really well. I went on the field and did the same things I always do here. It was good to just get out there and help this team knowing that it’s eventually going to help the big boys.”
Last season, Kiner-Falefa turned heads by hitting .261 in 111 games for the Rangers, a strong rookie showing for the catcher/infielder. However, he struggled early in 2019, hitting .200 in late March and April combined but looked like he turned a corner at the plate in late May and early June, just before landing on the IL.
“Literally maybe two weeks before I got hurt, I made some adjustments. I started swinging the bat really well,” Kiner-Falefa said. “My numbers weren’t good and then I slowly brought them up. I have 100 at-bats, so I know who I am. I know what I did last year and know that it’s going to come soon. It just takes time with learning a new position and all that, but at the end of the day it’s all about getting your at-bats, so once I get back out there (I know I will) help the team and show what I really can do.”
One highlight of this season before his injury was a mid-May visit from the Cardinals, which allowed him to play against fellow Hawaii native Kolten Wong for the first time in his career.
“Yeah, it was cool. He’s someone I always grew up watching, so to actually share the field with him was really, really special,” Kiner-Falefa said. “I grew up watching him play at the University of Hawaii killing it. He was a role model for everybody in Hawaii. Him and Shane Victorino were huge. It was just cool to actually share the field with another Hawaii guy in the big leagues, which is an accomplishment for both of us.”
During his stay in Nashville, Kiner-Falefa stuck with tradition and bought a clubhouse spread for the team, choosing P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and will do the same while in Frisco but was undecided about where he will get food from.
But once he returns to full health, the Rangers have a decision to make behind the plate. Some think they might stick with the veteran combination of Mathis and Federowicz, which could mean Kiner-Falefa heads to Nashville, where he could play more regularly. And if that’s how things play out, Kiner-Falefa will be fine.
“Yeah, that month off was good enough for me (in lieu of the All-Star break),” he said. “It was tough just to sit and watch. But now that I’m healthy, I just want to get back out and play. It doesn’t matter where.”